I have just finished watching online a critical discussion on the practice of history held at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
In these times of fake news, misleading information, and conspiracy theories. Whom do you trust? What is the truth? Social media is all-encompassing.
This discussion on the practice of history is a dose of hope when political interest groups seek to rewrite the past on their terms.
Maybe this discussion was not a complete cure, but it certainly seems like a ray of sunshine into the swamp of the abyss.
So what did I see?
I watched a panel of learned historians and museum directors discussing launching the Reframing History report by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).
The promotional email I received boasted:
This new initiative provides the field with a set of evidence-backed recommendations to communicate history more convincingly and to build a wider understanding of what inclusive history looks like and why it is important for all of us.
The discussion lived up to the hype.
I highly recommend this lively and challenging discussion to anyone involved in the practice of history. I do not think it matters whether you are from the academy, practise public history, or just like popular history. This discussion should interest you if you are concerned about the long term health of history as a discipline.
Panel Discussion Details
John Dichtl, president and CEO of AASLH, started the conversation by providing an overview of the project.
That was followed by a discussion by Anthea Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan, Director of the National Museum of American History.
Martha S. Jones, author and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University
Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with Slavery Across America
Jorge Zamanillo, director of HistoryMiami and incoming founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino
The panellists expand on the Reframing History Report and Toolkit by talking about their personal experiences of communicating about history and sharing their recommendations for how history organizations can create environments for positive and productive conversations.
The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area. There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful.
(Facebook, 23 November 2015)
Tourist history of Camden
The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for a historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council. It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation-building story of a settler society. In many ways, it hides as much as it reveals. It states:
The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.
The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.
The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.
The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.
The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.
(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)
A similar heritage walking brochure exists for the Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.
This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.
This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is a list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.
This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.
The Cowpastures frontier
From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries. While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).
Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]
Amongst other writings, there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).
Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area, he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.
Villages and beyond
The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840).
The earliest accounts of Camden village, its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.
Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald. These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period, made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.
Further reminiscences were Thomas Herbert (1909) in the Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).
The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.
These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.
An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.
This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.
The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him. In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and the 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).
The early 20th century also witnessed a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.
There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s watercolours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).
The Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District in its journal. The first appeared in 1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.
Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929. In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, the owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the Royal Australian Historical Society to write The Story of Camden.
The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.
Memorials of loss
As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted the loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’. The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.
There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.
Secondly, there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.
Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to memorialise farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.
In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the Royal Australian Historical Society. The museum used simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.
The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.
Elsewhere in the district, The Oaks Historical Society was formed in 1979. It has contributed much material to the storytelling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.
The rural-urban fringe and other threats
The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.
These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.
Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy and have been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays and a host of other places. In 1999 Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.
There was also the influence of the national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.
This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden. The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully publish specialist local histories for a local audience.
The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.
Camden has a fine tradition of sport dating back into the 19th century. But one day in 1925 Camden’s civic leaders banned Sunday sport at Onslow Park.
There was no public outcry. There were no protests in the street. It passed without a murmur.
So what prompted this momentous decision?
A letter to Camden Municipal Council in early 1925 from Rev CJ King, rector of St Johns Church, and Rev AH Johnstone, minister at the Camden Methodist Church, complained about a clash between religious services held on Onslow Park and a number of Sunday cricket matches. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)
The 1925 ban Sunday sport erupted after the Camden Mayor, GF Furner, granted permission for religious services on Sundays at Onslow Park. There had subsequently been a clash between local cricketers and religious services in January 1925 using the ground. (Camden News, 26 February 1925)
Originally Onslow Park had been made available to the Camden community by Sir William Macarthur and Mrs Elizabeth Onslow in 1882 from their pastoral property of Camden Park. The 10 acres had been put into a trust (a deed of gift) that allowed the area to be used by ‘inhabitants and visitors to the town and district as a pleasure ground and place of recreation’. The trustees were JK Chisholm, HP Reeves, E Simpson, and F Ferguson. (Camden News, 16 September 1897)
William Theobald writes that recreation grounds date back to the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians around 2000 BC. During Ancient Greek and Roman times these parks and open spaces were the privilege of the elites. In England the story of recreation grounds dates back to the 14th century when wasteland, or the local village common, reserved for grazing cows was made available for children’s play and ‘young people’ (men) after the days work.
London’s Royal Parks were opened to the public on Sundays with the first being Hyde Park in 1635. Urban recreation grounds were a Victorian innovation in response to the unhealthy aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the desire by Victorians to improve the physical and spiritual well-being of town dwellers. St James Park in London was the first public park opened in 1835.
The concept of a public pleasure ground outlined in the Onslow Park 1882 Deed of Gift dates back to Ancient Romans and usually related to landscaped gardens. In England pleasure grounds were gardens opened for entertainment and recreation from the 18th century and often had concert halls, bandstands, zoos, amusement rides and menageries.
These were the influences and traditions that encouraged the Macarthur family to dedicate Onslow Park to the Camden community in 1882. The family were always interested in improvements in the well-being of the local population.
The earliest references to Camden sport on Onslow Park date back to the mid-1890s with local football matches. There was a press report of a lively rugby match between Camden and Campbelltown and consideration was given to the formation of the football club. (Camden News, 13 June 1895)
The Camden cricketers had the use of the grounds on a regular basis with the first reports in the Camden press to cricket being played on Onslow Oval in 1895. (Camden News, 1 August 1895)
Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)
The background story of the Sunday sporting bans had been complicated when the responsibility for Onslow Park had been transferred to the council from the Onslow Park Trust and the Camden AH&I Society in 1924 by an act of parliament. The New South Wales government specified in the Act that the ground was to be used for ‘public recreation’ (Onslow Park Act 1924 (NSW)). The ground trust was represented by FA Macarthur Onslow of Camden Park, and the Camden AH&I Society by GM Macarthur Onslow, and TC Barker of Maryland.
Even earlier war the Sunday sporting ban had remained in place after Rev AE Putland from the Camden Methodist Church had raised objections to Sunday cricket in 1941.(Camden News 13 March 1941)
‘Too hot to handle’
Baker’s challenge to the sporting ban was discussed by Camden Municipal Council in mid-1943 when a rescission motion was placed on the council business papers.
The rescission motion was highly contentious and was considered ‘too hot to handle’ by council aldermen.
The proposed solution was a referendum.
The opposing camps divided on religious lines. The Methodists conducted the ‘No’ campaign and handed out literature in Argyle Street. The ‘Yes’ vote was supported by the soccer club, St John’s Church of England and their supporters. There were heated letters in the Camden News, and George Sidman, its owner and an active Methodist, remained impartial during the whole debate.
Eventually common-sense prevailed and the result was a resounding ‘Yes’, with 393 votes, to 197 ‘No’ votes, and as far as Sidman was concerned that was the end of the matter. The soccer competition between the military and the Camden community proved to be a complete success. (Camden News, 1 July 1943, 15 July 1943, 22 July 1943, 29 July 1943, 5 August 1943.)
Other communities with defence establishments did not have similar problems. For example at Temora RAAF airmen became involved in cricket and tennis, and Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) personnel played basketball, while in Albury the military joined local sporting competitions (Maslin, Wings Over Temora, p. 29; Pennay, On the Home Front, p. 32.).
Camden war cemetery is located on the corner of Burragorang and Cawdor Roads, three kilometres south of Camden Post Office. The cemetery is on a slight rise above the Nepean River floodplain, with a northerly aspect at an elevation of 75 metres.
The vista to the north provides a picturesque view across the floodplain and is dominated by the town with the spire of St John’s Church in the background. It is not hard to imagine the scene that met these servicemen when they arrived in Camden during wartime over 60 years ago.
When the visitor approaches the cemetery, they do so from the east. They advance along a paved walkway lined with low hedgerows. The walkway is dominated by a flag pole in the centre of the path. The visitor then walks through a gate into the cemetery proper, and they are immediately struck by the serenity of the site.
The Camden War Cemetery contains the graves of seventeen Royal Australian Air Force servicemen, four army personnel and two Royal Air Force servicemen. The headstones are lined up in an North-South configuration, with the graves facing East-West. The graves are surrounded by a border of oleanders and a bottlebrush and dominated by a single majestic tea tree. The cemetery is well kept and has a pleasant outlook.
The cemetery contains the bodies of twenty-three servicemen who were stationed in the Camden area during the Second World War. These men fit within the long military tradition of the Camden area when local men went off to the Boer War and later the First World War.
There were thousands of servicemen who passed through the Camden area between 1939 and 1946 at the various defence facilities. The major major military establishments were the Narellan Military Camp on the Northern Road at Narellan, and the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park, Narellan.
Many army units also undertook manoeuvres throughout the area and there were temporary encampments in several other locations including Camden Showground, Smeaton Grange and Menangle Paceway.
The principal RAAF establishment was located at Camden Airfield, with secondary airfields at The Oaks and Menangle Paceway. As well, there were a number of emergency runways constructed throughout the local area. The Royal Air Force also had several transport squadrons based at Camden Airfield between 1944 and 1946.
The names of the World War One servicemen and women re listed on the memorial gates to Macarthur Park, Menangle Rd, Camden. For more information on the service of Camden servicemen and women see Camden Remembers. These servicemen add to the Anzac mythology that is on display every Anzac Day.
Royal Australian Air Force
Five airmen were killed in Hudson A16-152, which was part of No 32 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft crashed south-west of Camden on 26 January 1943 while on a cross-country training flight. The aircraft was based at Camden airfield. The pilot and the four-man crew were killed. Pilot: F/Sgt SK Scott (402996), aged 25 years. Crew: Navigator F/Sgt HBL Johns (407122), aged 27 years. W/T Operator Sgt BCJ Pearson (402978), aged 25 years. Sgt GD Voyzey (402930), aged 24 years. Sgt GT Lawson (412545), 30 years.
Sgt SW Smethurst (418014), aged 20 years, crashed his Kittyhawk A29-455 at The Oaks Airfield on 30 September 1943 while on a training exercise strafing the airfield. This exercise was in conjunction with the 54th Australian Anti-Aircraft Regiment which erected gun positions adjacent to the airfield. The aircraft splurged at the bottom of a shallow dive and struck the ground.
Five airmen were killed on 18 November 1943 in Beaufort A9-350, which was part of No 32 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft crashed on a night cross country exercise training exercise, while based at Camden airfield. The pilot and crew were killed. Pilot: F/Sgt RC Christie (410630), aged 23 years. Crew: Navigator Sgt DR James (418721), aged 20 years. WOAG Sgt FN Fanning (419465), aged 20 years. Sgt RA Sharples (419226), aged 23 years. F/S HSJ Terrill (419426), a passenger from 73 Squadron, aged 20 years.
Corporal JP Kerrigan (62397) was an electrical mechanic and was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 11 December 1943, aged 29 years.
Five airmen were killed on 29 March 1944 in Beaufort A9-550, which was part of No 15 Squadron RAAF. The aircraft was based at the Menangle Paceway Airfield. The aircraft crashed after take-off when the port engine failed. Pilot: F/Sgt HB Johnston (420024), aged 26 years. Crew: 2nd Pilot F/O RW Durrant (422555), aged 24 years. Navigator F/O HD Wheller (426409), aged 21 years. W/T Operator F/Sgt RAC Hoscher (412535), aged 23 years. AC1 WH Bray (141632), aged 22 years.
Royal Air Force
LAC A Mullen (RAF) 1526778 was involved in a fatal accident on the Camden airfield tarmac on 12 October 1945, aged 23 years.
WOFF FS Biggs (RAF) 365157 from the Servicing Wing, RAF Station, Camden, was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 25 November 1945, aged 36 years.
Private Leonard Charles Walker (V235527) enlisted in the Australian Citizen’s Military Forces at Ballarat, Victorian on 8 October 1941. He was born in Ballarat on 28 June 1923. He served in the: 46th Australian Infantry Battalion, 29/46th Australian Infantry Battalion. He died at Menangle on 18 July 1945 aged 22 years.
Warrant Officer Class Two John Gow Alcorn (NX148530) enlisted in the Australian Citizen’s Military Forces at Sydney on 28 May 1934. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 19 January 1900. He transferred to the 2/AIF on 26 February 1943. He served in the: Sydney University Regiment, 110th Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, 41st Australian Infantry Battalion, 41/2nd Australian Infantry Battalion. He died of illness on 31 March 1944, aged 44 years.
Warrant Officer Class Two Harry George Grinstead (NX126686) enlisted in the Australian Militia Forces at Sydney on 17 February 1930. He was born in London on14 August 1910. He initially transferred to the Australian Citizen Military Forces on 17 February 1940, and then to the 2/AIF on 15 August 1942. He served in the: 9th Australian Field Regiment. He died on 15 August 1944 as the result of injuries sustained in a railway accident, aged 34 years.
Craftsmen Elwyn Sidney Hoole (NX97717) enlisted in the 2/AIF on Paddington on 11 August 1942. He was born at Walcha, New South Wales, on 12 October 1908. He served in the: 1st Australian Ordinance Workshops Company, 308th Australian Light Aide Detachment. He died on 6 June 1944, aged 35 years.
RAAF Historical Section, Department of Defence, Air Force Office, Canberra. Correspondence, Accident Reports.
Central Army Records, Melbourne. Correspondence.
Updated 19 August 2021. Originally posted 19 September 2014.
The Fall of Singapore in February 1942 was a disastrous military defeat for the British Imperial forces and a defining point of the Second World War for Camden.
Tensions in the district had been rising for weeks during late 1941.
At the beginning of December the Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbour, Royal Air Force facilities on the Malayan coast (7 December 1941) and other locations. Shortly after this the Japanese navy sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse (10 December 1941).
Camden resident Donald Howard wrote that the town ‘like the rest of Australia knew that sooner or later we would be “for it”‘. (Howard, The Hub of Camden, p. 25.) Earlier in the year the Camden area had been declared a ‘vulnerable area’ (August) and the town had its first blackout test.
Singapore had been on the minds of Australia’s strategic thinkers since the end of the First World War. The Australian Government felt that the country’s greatest military threat came from Japan, and Australia joined forces with Britain in what became known as the Singapore Strategy. British naval facilities were strengthened at Singapore and a string of conservative Australian governments reduced spending on defence across the Interwar years.
‘A black month’
Historian Michael McKernan in his book All in! Australia during the second world war has called December 1941 a ‘black month for Australians’ and Prime Minister Curtin told the nation ‘We are at war’. (McKernan, All In!, pp. 96-97.)
Things were heating up and the Japanese Imperial Army landed forces on the Malayan peninsula on 8 December and started their land-based push towards Singapore.
TheCamden News ran an editorial with the headline ‘Japan – According to Plan’. The News stated:
‘The feeling has been that war with the crafty and ambitious Japanese, rapidly rising to power, was bound to come sooner or later. For years the ‘Yellow Peril’ has provided an incalculable element in all Australian political thinking. Put bluntly, the traditional ascendancy of the white race might well be at stake if Japan were enabled to gather strength from this war in anything like the same proportion as she took it from the last.’
The warning of a threat to European exceptionalism advanced by the Camden News was not new. The ascendancy of the white man was a long-held belief by Europeans across the world and the defeat of the British Empire troops in Singapore came at the hands of an Asian power came as a complete shock. According to many in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was Europeans’ duty—the “white man’s burden“—to bring civilisation to non-white peoples through beneficent imperialism. In Australia, this found expression in the White Australia policy.
We are getting worried!
There were signs that the Camden community were seriously worried by the progress of the war. The Camden National Emergency Services jumped into action: there was an urgent call for wardens; civil defence meetings were held with training sessions; sand dumps were established in case of incendiary bombs; street lighting was reduced; sandbagging was increased at Camden Hospital; and police strictly enforced fuel regulations.
The Japanese advance down the Malay peninsula continued and units from the Australian 8th Infantry Division saw action in mid-January. By the end of month the Malaya campaign was going badly for the British forces.
The Camden News ran an editorial headed ‘The Jap is not a Super-man’:
‘The Japanese continue their rapid advance through the islands of the north until they are now within striking distance of the biggest island of all — our own homeland. That is cause for anxiety enough, but don’t let us help the enemy by crediting him with powers and capacities. he does net possess. The Jap, good fighter though he is, is not yet a superman.’
On 8 February 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army landed on Singapore island. Within a week the British forces had surrendered. The Fall of Singapore on 15 February to the Japanese forces was a profound shock to Australia and other parts of the British Empire.
‘was the scene of the largest surrender of British-led forces ever recorded in history’. The British considered Singapore as their ‘Gibraltar in the Far East’ and it was assumed to be just as impregnable’.
The Camden News editorialised the defeat as Australia’s Total War— And Its Implications. The News warned that Australia was under direct threat of invasion:
Official pronouncements made last week, and again this week, should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the ‘battle of Australia’ has now definitely begun. We face total war — possibly on our own soil. The events of the last week — one of the blackest weeks of the whole war — have shattered our complacency, and he is a foolish man indeed who still faces the immediate future with light-hearted abandon.We must rid ourselves of our comfortable beliefs that Australia is too far from Japan for successful invasion.
Camden’s civil defence authorities drew up plans for the town’s evacuation, and formed a scorched earth policy committee. Helen Stewardson wrote to her brother, Harry, an airman in England, ‘I guess you hear the news the same as we do, it is rather disheartening, but we hope for the best’. (Vernon, ‘Letters to an Airmen’, Grist Mills, Dec. 1999, p. 56.)
The failure of the British Imperial Forces at Singapore was profound.
Terry Stewart maintains that the arrogance of the British led to underestimate the ability of the Japanese forces. She writes:
In the 1930s and 1940s, the British forces stationed in Singapore epitomised the British military idea of officers and gentlemen. The atmosphere was very much one of colonial sociability.
Oliver Steward writes that the British High Command left Singapore vulnerable, with a lack of equipment including tanks and aircraft, without proper kit to be worn by troops in a jungle environment. This situation was complicated by Churchill’s attitude who ordered Empire forcesunder the command of General Percival to “stand their ground to the last man standing”.
When the British commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered on 15 February 1942 more than 130,000 British Imperial troops were taken prisoner.
The National Museum of Australia states that for Australia, the fall of Singapore was a disaster. More than 15,000 Australian soldiers were taken captive. Of these, more than 7000 would die as prisoners of war. Controversially, the commander of Australian forces on the island, Major General Gordon Bennett, escaped the island with two staff officers on the night of the surrender. (NMA)
One Camden soldier, Private Robert J Auld, served with the 2/20 Australian Infantry Battalion and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. In 1940 Auld enlisted and married Camden girl Phyllis Kerswell. The 2/20th saw action in the Malayan peninsular campaign and withdrew under the Japanese advance in December 1941 and arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942. Imprisoned in Changi after the surrender, Auld and others were transferred to Sandakan. Auld died in June 1945 aged 30. (Camden Remembers)
The imprisonment of Australian troops created the POW as the dominant stereotype for Australia during the Second World War. Craig Barrett writes in his PhD titled Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese that the POWs have become ‘an integral part of Anzac Day and the Anzac legend’.
Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.
a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.
Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.
Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that
a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.
So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.
Shortages from the start
Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.
At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.
Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.
Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.
Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.
Women volunteer to supply socks
Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.
In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.
In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.
Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.
In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.
Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,
Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).
The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.
Millions of socks
It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.
Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)
Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.
In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.
The iconic sock knitter
The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.
The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states
The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.
Knitting mediating grief
The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.
Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.
Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.
Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:
Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.
Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.
Studley Park was located on the Hume Highway at Narellan. During the war period, its role as a as defence facility for the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) School was to conduct infantry training courses. The property was leased in October 1939 by the Department of Defence at £12/12/- per week although it had been first occupied in September.
A report for the defence authorities in 1940 gave a detailed description of the property including a valuation. According to the report the site fronted the Hume Highway, with the rear of the property on Lodges Road. The property consisted of an undulating country that was mostly cleared and grassed and was 193 acres. The soil was clay and land was suitable for grazing, fruit growing, and viticulture. It was felt to be an appropriate site for a country club and golf course or an agricultural school.
The site had been purchased by Archibald Gregory, a company director, in 1933, who had established a golf course. Gregory had converted the house into a high-class residence and the author of the report considered that it was unlikely that the property could be maintained in that state during its occupation by the Army. The report author considered it probable that the entire golf course would have to be reconstructed after occupation.
Land- 198 acres – £4,958; House – £6,592; Theatre – £465; Club House – £1,057; Barn – £370; Swimming Pool – £188; Golf Course – £4,625; Motion Picture Plant, Screen – £750; Rental Value – £25 per week; Improved Value – £20,000.
During the early occupation of the site by the army, Gregory continued to occupy the house, but by May 1940 his patience had worn thin. He complained to the authorities that the army had occupied the site from September 1939 without payment and had caused considerable disorganisation to his business and considerable damage to his property.
Gregory’s solicitors made representations that the government had published a report in the press in April that the army had decided to purchase the property. Since the publication of the report Gregory’s business had virtually stopped and had resulted in considerable losses.
In April 1940 approval was given for the purchase of the entire property at a cash price of £16,000, including all buildings, property, floor coverings and some furniture. 
August 1941 – Major Ironmonger, CO, Captain Peach, Adjutant;
29 November 1943 – 26 February 1944 – Major John Whitmore, Chief Instructor. Lt Max Cadogan, 17th Battalion, Instructor
The Eastern Command Training School conducted courses in tactical instruction on the Vickers machine gun and driving Matilda tanks.
Most of the instruction at the school, including artillery, was conducted by the Australian Instructional Corps. The instructors were warrant officers and the chief instuctor was Captain Peters, a Duntroon graduate. Other instructors included W/O Jim Turpie, W/O Johnston, W/O Chad (WW1 veteran).
Alan Bailey reports that he would occasionally take mail and quartermasters stores from Narellan Military Camp to Studley Park, usually by horse transport.
In their time off some of the troops would `flag down’ Pansy, and it was reported the driver would pick them up anywhere along the line on the way into Camden. The guard and the driver would wait a reasonable time for the return journey in Camden and they would be rewarded with a bottle of wine, `…the only drink available in take-away form at the time…’.
Exercises were carried out on the Nepean River with river crossings, there were day and night exercises around Menangle and Camden Park, bayonet training, anti-gas warfare, range practice with a rifle, Bren Gun, mortars, pistols, sub-machine, carbines, and hand grenades. There were infantry tactics, leadership, supporting arms applicable to the infantry. In 1941 there was also instruction Vickers Machine Gun, Aircraft Identification and protection from air attacks.
All soldiers who attended the courses spoke well of them and Bede Tongs reports that they helped in action as a member of the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion against the Japanese in 1942 New Guinea in the Wewak campaign. The accommodation was two to a tent.
During the war, the School provided married officers and well as single officer’s quarters.
Units Attending School
September 1939 – October 1939 – Sydney University Regiment
Early part of the war – 1 Field Brigade, RAA, and various other units: Artillery, Light Horse, Infantry, Signallers; 130 personnel;
August 1941 – 3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF, Course Series No 1, Infantry Training; 30 participants in each of 3 platoons – total 90 personnel;
The troops at the school had little if any contact with the local community. If they had any time off, such as an hour in the evening, then they tended to walk across the paddock to the Narellan Hotel. It is reported by Sir Roden Cutler, that at such time the Camden Police were understanding enough not to monitor the hotels opening hours too closely.
Cutler stated that Camden was a very quiet pleasant little town and in their off-duty time they frequented the Camden Inn milk bar, where the owner, his wife and their daughters always gave them a warm welcome. Bede Tongs reports that Camden shops and streets were full of friendly people.
After the war, the military use of the site continued and initially the AASC School was used by the Citizen Military Forces. In 1951 the School took the First Recruit Platoon of the newly formed Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. During the Vietnam War, the School was used as intelligence centre where troops were introduced to helicopter tactics. The site has also served as the base for Camden Troop of the 1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Second Ordinance Platoon and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). 
The farmland surrounding the house was leased in 1945 to A Chapman of Kirkham for grazing his cattle. In 1949 a group of Camden residents approached the Department of the Army to secure all but 18 acres of Studley Park for use as a golf club, and eventually, in 1996 the Camden Golf Club purchased the site.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, May 1945, 1955.
.Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February 1999, 29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club, 1998);
Such a pretty tree-lined streetscape, full of old-world charm. I’ve often stood at that green paddock next to the church, with its views across the valley… locals are up in arms as online rumours swirl about moves by the church to sell the land…Right next to Camden’s most famous heritage landmark, an 1840s gem described by one government website as “a major edifice in the history of Australian architecture”.
Cr Banasik said this development opposed the shire’s ethos of rural living. The heritage of the area is amazing – there is Camden Park, Gilbulla, Menangle Store and the rotolactor site,” he said. This development just ain’t rural living.
Journalist Kayla Osborne reported the views of town planning consultant Graham Pascoe on heritage and the Vella family’s new commercial horticulture venture at Elderslie in the Camden Narellan Advertiser in May.
Mr Pascoe said the heritage nature of the site and its proximity to Camden had been well-considered by the Vella family…the land was ideal for farm use…the land has been farmed in the past…We believe we will provide a model…farm at the entrance to the Camden town centre.
The views on heritage expressed in these stories do not actually define heritage.
There is an assumption or a presumption that the reader understands the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these contexts.
So what was the intended meaning of the word heritage in each of these articles?
To answer that question another must be asked: What is Camden’s heritage?
What is heritage?
The term heritage is not that straight forward. There are a range of definitions and interpretations. The term is not well understood and can raise more issues than it addresses. Jana Vytrhlik, Manager, Education and Visitor Services, Powerhouse Museum (Teaching Heritage, 2010) agrees and says:
To start with it is a useful exercise to say what heritage is not. Heritage is not history. Historian David Lowenthal says that
Heritage should not be confused with history. History seeks to convince by truth… Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and error… Prejudiced pride in the past… is its essential aim. Heritage attests our identity and affirms our worth.
The word ‘history’ comes from the Latin word ‘historia’, which means ‘inquiry’, or ‘knowledge gained by investigation’.
History tells the stories of the past about people, places and events. History is about what has changed and what has stayed the same. History provides the context for those people, places and events.
History is about understanding, analysing and interpreting the past based on evidence. As new evidence is produced there is a re-examination and re-interpreting of the past. History is about understanding the why about the past.
Meaning of heritage
The meaning of heritage is not fixed and historian Graeme Davison maintains that the history of the word heritage has changed over the decades.
Initially heritage referred to what was handed down from one generation to the next and could include property, traditions, celebrations, commemorations, myths and stories, and memories. These were linked to familial and kinship groups, particularly in traditional societies, through folkways and folklore.
In the 19th century the creation of the nation-state, capitalism and modernism led to the creation of national myths, national stories and national heritage.
ln the 1970s, the new usage was officially recognised. A UNESCO Committee for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted the term ‘heritage’ as a shorthand for both the ‘built and natural remnants of the past’.
(in Davison, G. & McConville C. (eds) ‘A Heritage Handbook’, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards NSW,1991)
Heritage can be categorized in a binary fashion: cultural heritage/natural heritage; tangible heritage/intangible heritage; my heritage/your heritage; my heritage/our heritage.
What is significant about Camden’s heritage?
In 2016 the Camden Resident Action Group attempted to have the Camden town centre listed on the state heritage register. The group obtained statements of support which outlined the significance Camden’s heritage. Statements of support were from Dr Ian Willis (UOW), Associate Professor Grace Karskens (UNSW) and Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson.
The squadron moved from Melville Island in January 1944, then moved to Queensland and was equipped with Boomerangs.
The squadron moved to Menangle in August 1944, where it was disbanded on 18 September 1945. (RAAF Museum)
RAAF No 1 Squadron
Alan Hick, former Observer Air Gunner and Wireless/Telegraph Operator, aged 24 years of age recalls that he spent about six weeks at Menangle Airfield around December 1943 as part of No 1 Squadron.
Hick arrived at Menangle from East Sale on 29 December 1943 as part of the air crew. What followed was a training period consisting of anti-submarine patrols off the Australian east coast.
Alan Hick’s Flying Log Book details the type of operations of the squadron while at Menangle RAAF. There was training flights in airmanship, formation training, night flights, high level bombing, low level bombing, formation flying, fighter co-operation, and medium level bombing.
The squadron leader while at Menangle was DW Campbell.
Alan Hick recalls:
This was our war training period, it consisted of anti-submarine patrols which were practice to us but actually was fair dinkum as we used to patrol up and down the coast. High and low level bombing practise, fighter co-operation with a fighter squadron based at Bankstown. Formation flying, day and night, strip landings for possible emergencies, then as a ‘finale’ we did a squadron formation trip to Mildura. I remember 4 flights of 3 aircraft in each flight. Next day on the way back each aircraft of each flight had to take their turn in leading the flight. It was during a changeover that two planes touched and ended with both planes crashing and burning. Killing all air crew members plus our squadron photographer. This is something I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen a squadron break up so quickly as this one did. We were ordered home to Menangle as soon as possible before two more ended up the same way. As far as we (the crew) were concerned the remainder of our training was trouble free.
Hick states that the squadron number around 150 personnel. He recalls:
The advance part of 10 left 3 weeks before we get the camp ready and each plane took 10 people including a crew of 4 which would make approximately 150 at Menangle. We were equipped with the later mode Beauforts designed for local level flying ideal for out job of sea reconnaissance and convoy work.
According to Alan Hick the airfield had a number of issues for aircraft. He recalls:
The land strips was not very long so whenever possible we always took off in a southerly direction particularly if it was a hot day. To the north was a hill which was hard to clear when the air was hot and thin. If this happened we often had to turn slightly to the right to avoid hitting the hill. North or south take-offs depended on the wind and weather.
The layout and operation of the airfield used the existing facilities of the trotting club. He stated:
The grandstand for used for ‘bludging’ when didn’t have anything to do. The lower portion was used for offices and storage space for anything else that needed protection from the weather.
Meals were prepared in the quarters in Station Street in Menangle village. Alan recalls:
Our lunch was brought down to us from the living quarters where the cookhouse was situated in one of the six houses built for the purpose. These houses had to be dismantled at the end of the war as they were only temporary buildings with no lining on walls or ceilings. They had the appearance of a small country village from the air. The general store received quite a bit of patronage from the ‘boys’. We were transported by truck between the village and the airfield.
Alan Hick recalls that he met his wife while he was on training at Maryborough in Queensland in December 1941. While the squadron was at Menangle his wife lived at Buxton with their one year old son and Alan was at home most nights.
The squadron moved on from Menangle RAAF to Charleville in Queensland on 20 February 1944.
While the No 15 Squadron was stationed at Menangle there was an air accident and the air crew of Beaufort A9-550 were killed. The accident occurred on the Mount Gilead property on the Appin Road. The report stated that the plane crashed
‘9 miles SE [of the] Menangle Strip at 0410 hours’ after take-off due to a port engine failure.
The members of the air crew who were killed were pilot F/Sgt HD Johnson, and the members of the crew who were F/O RW Durant, F/O HD Wheller, F/Sgt BA Herscher, and AC1 WH Bray. (RAAF Historical: Preliminary Accident Report 1 April 1944)
RAAF No 24 Squadron
Former Flight Sergeant Allan Hope recalls the six weeks he spent at Menangle in September 1944 as part of No 24 Squadron which was equipped with Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers.
The squadron had moved from Bankstown Airfield to Menangle.
The unit was put up in barracks in Station Street Menangle.
Allan Hope states:
The barracks were build as houses and merged with the existing residences as a form of camouflage. Once inside the resemblance ended. There were no ceilings or wall linings and any framing inside was just a load bearer for the roof.
The squadron took over the runway that had been built across the trotting track in the mid-war years. The runway was parallel to the railway line.
The [trotting] club premises at Menangle Park houses the orderly room, store room and signals office.
The unit had 150 personnel and the main purpose of locating at Menangle was ‘as a staging camp for the squadron’.
The unit did not see active service at Menangle Park as Allan Hope does ‘not recall any Vultee landing there as they were diverted to New Guinea’.
While at Menangle things were fairly quiet and leave was granted to most men. He recalls:
Most men had friends or relatives in Sydney suburbs. They took every opportunity to visit them on weekends and during the week. They arrived back at camp at night about 4.00am. Once a week we could pile into a truck and go to the pictures in Campbelltown’
Allan Hope states that there was little interaction with the ‘locals’, although ‘the general story on the corner would have been sorry to see us go’.
Hope left for New Guinea in September 1944 with a ‘small advance party taking off from the racecourse in a American DC3’.
RAAF No 15 Squadron
No 15 Squadron was equipped with Beauforts and formed at Camden on 27 January 1944 and was located at Camden Airfield until March 1945.
The unit operated in the anti-submarine and convoy escort role off the Australian East Coast.
Former wireless operator and gunner David Symons recalls the squadron was at Camden from February 1944, then at Menangle in March 1944, Camden again in April 1944 to March 1945.
The squadron eventually moved to Kingaroy where it was disbanded on 23 March 1946. (RAAF Museum)
Information drawn from correspondence with former RAAF personnel by author.
Camden has hosted 32 Squadron RAAF since the time of the Second World War. The members of the squadron have developed a special relationship with the local community that has been marked by tragedy and celebrations.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units.1
Large scale air attacks on Rabaul in January 1942 had resulted in the virtual elimination of the 24 Squadron, and this was followed by the invasion of New Britain by the Japanese forces (23 January 1942). The war was not going particularly well for the Allied Forces.
There was the loss of Singapore (15 February), the commencement of an air campaign against Darwin, the country’s major northern port city (19 February) and the Japanese invasion of Timor (20-23 February).2
These events led to the formation of 32 Squadron. It was drawn from the survivors of 24 Squadron, who had reformed at Port Moresby with a flight of Hudson bombers. Two more flights of Hudsons, one from 6 Squadron, Richmond (New South Wales) and 23 Squadron, Archerfield (Queensland) were flown in to add to the strength. At this point the squadron had a strength of 12 Hudsons and crews and 124 maintenance staff.3
The duties of the squadron included bombing and reconnaissance against Japanese bases at Rabaul and Gasmata bases, landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Gona-Buna and Milne Bay campaigns, the Coral Sea battle, as well as anti-submarine and convoy patrols and supply drops to ground forces. During the eight months of combat operations the squadron flew over 400 missions lost 10 aircraft, with 54 killed in action.4
Lyle Abraham claims that 32 Squadron was the only Australian squadron to be formed ‘in the field’.5
Tour of Duty in New Guinea
After their tour of duty in New Guinea the squadron was initially posted to Pokolbin, New South Wales, but were then moved to Camden in late 1942.6 DK Saxelby, an electrician from the Camden base maintenance group, recalled on their arrival that the squadron were
‘a much battered battered band of men. Their clothes were the worst for wear having literally rotted off their backs from the humid climate and replacements destroyed by the enemy. Their footwear was falling to pieces’.7
On their arrival the squadron was equipped with 4 Lockheed Hudsons and 6 Avro Ansons under the command of DW Kingwell. The Hudsons were a 5-crew medium bomber. They were the main Australian bomber in New Guinea until 1943.
The aircraft were considered slow with a top speed of 246mph. They were a ‘relatively easy’ target for Japanese gunners and Zero fighters, but they were the only aircraft available at the time.8
Commanding Officers 32 Squadron RAAF
21 February 1942
W/C DW Kingwell
4 February 1943
W/C JF Lush
10 May 1943
W/C PA Parker
30 August 1943
W/C IH Smith
9 December 1943
S/L CA Loneragan (Temporary)
30 May 1944
S/L OF Barton
28 August 1944
W/C R Homes
28 February 1945
W/C DW Campbell
29 August 1945
F/L LG Brown
Source: WA Paull, 32 Squadron 60th Anniversary
Operational Duties at Camden Airfield
The squadron’s operational duties at Camden included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia. The squadron did night patrols covering the east coast of Australia from Bundaberg to Mallacootta, Queensland. The Bristol Beauforts, which the squadron was using from March 1943, were fitted with radar and was a ‘very closely guarded at the time’. There were also detached flights at Coffs Harbour and Bundaberg.9
PJ Squires recalls that during his time at Camden between May and December 1943 the role of the squadron was anti-submarine protection for coastal convoys using depth charges. Air cover was given from Bega to Bundaberg by moving aircraft.10
Harry Simpson recalls that his Beaufort crew undertook anti-submarine patrols at night using radar protecting convoys sailing off the east coast. The crew escorted convoys off the east coast. His crew also took part in general training including ‘fighter cooperative attacks’ and high and low level bombing practice.11
The crews were constantly flying between Camden, Mascot, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Amberly, Richmond, Williamtown, Evan’s Head and Moruya12 as well as Nabiac, Southport, Hervey Bay, Archerfield, Tocumwal and Canberra.13
The log book of John Murphy shows that on 26 February 1943 the squadron did anti-submarine patrol while convoying the Queen Mary, the Acquatania and the Ile de France.14 Another member of the squadron recalled that the squadron did convoy duty for the Queen Elizabeth when it brought he 6th Division back from Africa.15
Leo Reid recalls one mission undertaken by his crew that took place on 16 May 1943 (two nights after the Centaur hospital ship was sunk off Brisbane) when their Beaufort made contact with a submarine five miles off Coffs Harbour.
The plane dropped 6 bombs on and around the submarine. They were credited with a ‘D’ assessment (damaged and possibly unable to reach base). The Beaufort was crewed by pilot F/S G Liddell, Navigator F Westphalen, WAGs E Shipley & L Reid.16
Jock Sharpe’s Beaufort crew was: F/O Harry Kemp, F/S Peter Bowers, F/S Colin Sinclair, F/O JM (Jock) Sharpe (WAG).17 Harry Simpson’s Beaufort crew was: F/L WJ (Bill) Hoddinott, Pilot, F/O Peter King, Navigator, F/O HB (Bill) Simpson, Gunnery Leader, Wireless and Radar Operator, F/O CJ (Chuck) Owens, Wireless Airgunner, Tail Gunner.18
While a part of B Flight at Coffs Harbour, Bill Paull recalls that the crew of a Beaufort, pilotted by F/L Harrison, while on night patrol disabled a Japanese submarine with depth charges. The crew returned to Coffs Harbour and asked for a 250lb anti-submarine bomb to sink the disabled submarine.
They tried to skip the bomb into the submarine as they did in the Bay of Biscay. On inspection of the area the next morning they found the submarine had disappeared but there was an oil slick 1/2 mile wide and 3 miles long and the crew was credited with a possible sinking.19
Alan Wailes recalls training exercise with military units. One exercise with a searchlight company involved flying over Port Kembla at around 5000 feet so that the searchlight crews could practice homing in on an approaching aircraft. ‘We went back and forth for almost 2 hours with the searchlight beams tracking all over the sky but nowhere near us’.
In the end the crew had to turn on their landing lights so that the searchlights could find them. Another exercise involved flying over Dover Heights and giving the ack-ack units some practice. ‘We spent 3 hours flying in from all directions to really keep these chaps on their toes’.
Wailes claims that after a pre-dawn patrol ‘there was nothing more relaxing than to be coming in right over Sydney Harbour just on sunrise and to be able to take in the scenic wonders’.20
By the end of May 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with a total of seven Beaufort.21 PJ Squires recalls that eventually the squadron had 12 aircraft. The Beauforts were used for night cover using radar, while day cover was given by Avro Ansons.22
Lindsay Fromm notes that he wrote in his diary that an Airacobra landed at Camden in April 1943, and in May the CO (Lush) took the Boomerang out for a flight. A Spitfire squadron arrived at Camden in May 1943 and later in the month flew to out Darwin.23 By late 1943 Jock Sharpe recalls there were 24 Beaufort aircraft on the base.24
Accommodation at Camden Airfield
While stationed at Camden the squadron’s accommodation consisted of eight huts that were located on the rise on the eastern side of the current carpark, which was then the parade ground.
There was also an operations rooms in the same area of the airfield. At the same time the Macarhur Onslow family, who lived in Hassall Cottage, had their small plane in a hanger located slightly north of the Bellman hangars.
The squadron’s officer’s mess was in Macquarie Grove house, while the sergeant’s mess was located in a building on the rise east of the officer’s mess. The airfield tower was located west of the Bellman hangars on the grass verge adjacent to the taxi-ing areas.25
The huts were standard arrangements for RAAF personnel. The officers had individual rooms and the ranks were accommodated ‘barrack style’. There was a small hospital staffed by several male orderlies. Jock Sharpe does not recall any female personnel on the base during his posting at the airfield in 1943.26
Not everyone lived on the base, particularly the married men, and Leo Reid recalls that he and his wife lived in a flat in John opposite Dr Crookston’ house.27 (Letter, Reid, 30/12/86)
Harry Simpson recalls that after his marriage to wife Marjorie that lived off the station when he was not flying. They lived in flat supplied by Matron Berry of Camden Hospital and then for many months with Mrs Dickenson, who lived at 10 Chellaston Street. His wife, Marjorie, worked with Yvonne Dickenson at the local dentist, Campbell Graham.28
Free Time and Recreation
Recreation provided a release from the constant stress of operations. Shortly after their arrival in Camden the squadron held a dinner in the big hanger and entertainment was provided by Chips Rafferty and a magician.
Everyone enjoyed themselves and ‘a lot of beer was drunk’. In late in 1942 a number of the squadron assembled a Gypsy Minor, [Fromm photograph] while the Christmas dinner was held in camp. The officers and sergeants waited on the lower ranks and ‘helped us drink our Christmas cheer’.29
The men usually went to Sydney when they were given leave traivelling by train and staying at Air Force House in Sydney. Allan Diprose recalls that he went with other airmen to local dances and he attended the Presbyterian Church and the local Masonic Lodge.30
PJ Squires maintains that 70% of the squadron’s time was away from Camden consquently the men had little or no interaction with the local community. Any leave they were given they spent in Sydney.31
DK Saxelby recalls that he was given the duty of looking after the base switchboard at night. He slept beside the board and took messages that came in at night. He remembers that ‘this was good’ because in quiet periods he was to have a chat the girls at the telephone exchange in Camden.32
Harry Simpson recalls that he and his wife spent most of Harry’s leave in Sydney and on one occasion spent several weeks with Mrs King at Thirroul.33
Alan Wailes recalls that while he was at Camden he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft and had ‘an enjoyable time skithering around the sky’. (he was a WAG). They played golf, which according to Wailes, was ‘ a great way to relax as the course bordered the bushland countryside of the Macarthur-Onslow sheep property’.
He took part in ‘organised clay pigeon shooting which, apart from being a sporting outing, enabled us gunners to keep our eye in with moving targets. Then when we felt a need to vary the Base menu we would venture into Camden town to enjoy a good steak followed by a dessert of honeydew melon, which they thought were green ‘rockies’.34
Many members of the squadron made friends with local people during the war years.35 Lyle Abraham claimed that Camden people ‘were so warm and friendly that we felt like being back at home’.36
Most airmen who corresponded with the author do not recall a great level of interaction with the local community. Alan Wailes maintains that this was not really the fault of the aircrews. Most airmen had little contact with local residents because of the varying flying times that most crews had to put up with, especially when undertaking night patrols.37
The weather always played an influential role in the conduct of operations. On 20 May 1943 the airfield was flooded and cut-off from the town for a week and no-one could get in or out of the camp.38
Reid remembered that their Beaufort became bogged after leaving the runway when taxi-ing to the hangers.39
Photographs of the flooded airfield show floodwater stretching from the bottom of Exeter Street across the river to the lower part of the airfield adjacent to the fuel dumps. The flood water also came up to the sentry boxes on the gravel entrance road to the airfield, which the constant rain had made almost impassible. (PHOTO, Camden Museum)
Bill Paul remembers the 1943 flood and how their way along Kirkham Lane to the station at Elderslie. They had to put their clothes over their heads and hold onto the fence wire to get to the station.40
The ‘peaceful and beautiful surroundings of the cowpasture country [sic]’ contrasted with the ‘grim’ days of aerial combat in New Guinea, and while at Camden a member of the squadron recalled that
it took a long time flying in the near serenity of Camden to diminish or erase in the squadron’s memory the desparation and frustration of those grim eight months in New Guinea – if ever they will be erased.41
But the tranquility ‘of this lovely area’ of rural countryside surrounding the town could be deceptive, and flying out of Camden airfield was not without its own risks.42
Three crews were lost in accidents while on operations at Camden and ten of the airmen were buried in the Camden war cemetery.
Loss of Aircraft
The first accident occurred on 3 November 1942 and resulted in the loss of all five crew. Two Hudsons had been despatched from Camden airfield to investigate a report of a Japanese submarine 480 km east of Sydney around 5pm. At the time there were atrocious weather conditions and the pilot of one aircraft abandoned the mission after a short search and landed safely at Mascot.
The pilot of the second Hudson became disoriented and crossed the coastline near Port Kembla. It was sighted by personnel on duty at the Windang searchlight battery. They estimated the height of the aircraft at 250-300 metres. The aircraft proceeded across the Lake, and was spotted again, this time by the searchlight battery at Koonawarra Bay.
The aircraft flew on and then crashed in to Bong Bong Mountain west of Dapto around 9.15pm. A number of local residents in the area heard the plane pass overhead and then heard the explosion of the crash. Local residents reached the crash site aroung midnight and found no survivors.43
Lindsay Fromm recalled that duty personnel from Camden left the base the following day and arrived early the next morning to Dapto and made their way to the crash sight after a long climb through through the rainforest.
The bodies were removed that afternoon. The wings of the aircraft were slide down the mountain to be taken away by truck. ‘The rest of the place was piled on the four bombs and the army detonated them after notifying the wide area’. The loss of the crew was a ‘sad event’ for the squadron.44
An inquest was held in Wollongong four weeks later. The squadron’s commanding officer suggested at the inquest that in the bad weather the pilot may have become lost and confused Lake Illawarra with Botany Bay and hence not realised that he was headed toward the Illawarra Enscarpment at a low altitude.45
The second accident occurred on 26 January 1943 at Camden airfield. It involved the crash of a Hudson and the loss of all five crew members. The accident report stated that the aircraft crashed shortly after take off in wooded country south-west of Camden around the middle of the day.
The aircraft was apparently in ‘an inverted position when it struck the ground’. The third accident occurred on 17 November 1943 with the crash of a Beaufort the death of all five crew members. The aircraft had crashed into the side of Saddleback Mountain, west of Kiama, around midnight while on a night cross-country training exercise.46
Other minor incidents also kept ground crews busy. A Hudson overshot the runway on 8 January 1943 hitting the bank and collapsing the undercarriage, another crashed on take off and was moved into the hangar by the Rescue and Salvage Unit, while another crashed into a gutter and was taken away by road.
On 13 May 1943 a Beaufort crashed on take-off and hit a number of stumps on the hill at the end of the runway. The plane was a complete write-off, but the crew were able to walk away with minor scratches after getting out through a hole torn in the fuselage.47
Anxious Night Patrols
Alan Wailes remembers some anxious moments on a night patrol off the coast in bad weather. ‘We were making our way back to the coast at the conclusion of a patrol when we ran into an extremely heavy sea fog – perhaps we would be through it in a short while.
I was on wireless/radar watch at the time and ‘glued’ myself to the radar screen hoping for a landfall recording at any time – the screen was blank, was it working alright? (In those early days the equipment was barely adequate and with limited range.)
My thought momentarily wanded to a week or so earlier when one of our aircraft returning under similar circumstances, slammed into the coastal mountain range at Foxground near Gerrigong. Military secrecy at the time kept the public unaware of the crash until a timber cutter stumbled on the wreck days later.
I was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the crew of four’. Wailes laconically recalls that there was ‘a strange thing about many mainland bases we used (including Camden) there always seemed to be a cemetery just over the fence at the end of the runway’. He stated that ‘we didn’t really need a reminder of our ‘precarious occupation’.48
On another occasion their aircraft had a hydraulic failure. Their undercarriage would not come down, the wing flaps would not operate and there were no wheel brakes. After circling Camden airfield for an hour and trying a number of attempts to lower the undercarriage the pilot successfully put the aircraft on the runway, just clearing the fence and cruising to a stop at the end of the runway.49
In January 1944 Harry Simpson recalls that the squadron was relocated to Menangle Park, where they were involved in extensive training, before moving to Gould Airfield in the Northern Territory in February.50 By May the remainder of the squadron was transferred to Lowood, Queensland where the squadron was eventually disbanded in November 1945.51
Squadron Reunions at Camden
In the postwar period many airmen from the squadron got together for regular reunions, with a number were held in Camden. Postwar reunions have had an important social and theraputic event for members of the squadron. They would rekindled the camaraderie and ‘strong bonds forged by ordeal and comradeship’ between the men that made up the squadron.52
The reunions allowed the men to relive the glory days of the war. They also provided a theraputic role in that the veterans understood each other and did not have to explain or justify themselves to others.
The war played a pivotal role in the lives of these airmen and its played an important focus for their memories which are played in their reunions. The reunsion allows the veterans to relive their unique experiences amongst who were there. They relived times and events in their lives that they often have not even spoken about to their families. Stephen Garton has maintained in The Cost of War that
the traditional war narrative of men is one of self-realisation. War represented the attainment of an ideal of manliness – in physical action, bravery, self-control, courage, and, more importantly for many, male comradeship.’53
According to Garten this ideal was fostered at school, in sport and in the boy scouts and as the homefront was constructed as ‘a feminised space’ the reunion allowed the airmen to relive their warrior days. Many veterans found that return to civilian life created feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction, where they missed the ‘vibrancy of war’. They felt that those on the homefront did not ‘comprehend the enormity of their experiences’ and they craved the company of their former colleagues.54
The reunion provided this experience and rekindled bonds. For the airmen of the 32 Squadron their annual get together and five yearly reunions fulfilled these requirements.55 Keith Nelson felt that there was always ‘a lot to talk about’.56
The squadron held their 45th anniversary reunion in Camden in May 1987. Their program included a welcome by the Mayor, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, on the Saturday, followed by a tour of Camden Airfield, a tour of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan and a visit to Gledswood. On the Sunday there was a remembrance address at the Camden Cenotaph and an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. The organisers of the reunion stated that the Sunday program had been arranged as a special ‘thank you’ to Camden townsfolk.57
Around 70 squadron members and their families attended the 50th anniversary in Camden in February 1992. This was the largest and most successful reunion held in Camden. Reunion organiser Colin Butterworth stated that the celebrations commenced on the Friday with a civic reception followed by the reunion dinner.
On Saturday the veterans marched along Argyle Street and took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the John Street intersection, with a fly-over by the RAAF Roulettes. Mayor Theresa Testoni granted the squadron membership of the muncipality and presented the squadron with a citation.
Led by the Campbelltown-Camden band playing ‘The 32 Squadron March’ the party moved onto the Camden RSL Bowling Club for the squadron luncheon. Celebrations on Sunday commenced with an address at the Camden Cenotaph with a fly-over by four Hawker Siddley aircraft from the new 32 Squadron RAAF (based at Sale, Victoria) and a tree planting. This was followed by an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church.
An editorial in the Camden Crier maintained that the squadron’s choice of Camden for its reunion was a ‘high compliment’. Colin Butterworth felt that members of squadron regarded themselves at the unofficial ‘City of Camden’ Squadron because of the close affiliation between the townsfolk and the squadron.
The squadron held its 55th anniversary in Camden in 1997 and was attended by 20 members. On the Sunday a remembrance ceremony was held at the Camden cenotaph in Macarthur Park. In 2002 the 60th anniversary of the squadron was remembered with a tree planting ceremony in Macarthur Park.58 It was the last anniversary to be held in Camden.
1 ’32 Squadron’, Online at here, Accessed on 28 October 2005.
2 Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, St Leonards: Allen & Unwin,1998, pp. 199, 202-207.
3 Camden Crier, 13 May 1987.
4 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987; Camden Crier 12 February 1992; Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002.
5 LJ Abraham, Correspondence, 22 June 1999
6 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
7 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999
8 Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Evan Morris, Robin Prior & John Connor, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
9 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986; J Sharpe, Corresponence, 23 June 1999.
10 PJ Squires, Corresponence, 23 September 1999.
11 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
12 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
13 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 21 March 2002.
14 J Murphy, Correspondence, 30 September 1992.
15 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
16 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
17 J Sharpe, Correspondece, 23 June 1999.
18 HB Simpson, Correspondece, 20 July 1999.
19 W Paull, Correspondece, 20 September 1999.
20 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002.
21 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 26 February 1992; F Ellem, Correspondence, 14 November 1986; LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
22 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
23 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
24 J Sharpe, 23 June 1999.
25 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
26 J Sharpe, Correspondence, 23 June 1999.
27 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
28 HB Simpson, 20 July 1999.
29 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
30 AR Diprose, Correspondence, 21 June 1999.
31 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
32 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999.
33 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20July 1999.
34 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
35 Camden Crier 12 February 1992.
36 Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
37AF Wailes, Correspondence, 26 Septembe 1999.
38 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
39 L Reid, 30 December 1986.
40 WA Paull, Correspondence, 20 September 1999
41 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
42 Camden Crier 13 May 1987, 12 February 1992
43 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
44 LG Fromm, 10 August 1999
45 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
46 RAAF Historical, Canberra.
47 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
48 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
49 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
50 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 23 July 1999
51 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
52 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
53 Stephen Garton, The Cost of War, Australians Return, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20
55 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
56 Macarthur Chronicle 18 February 1992
57 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
58 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 19 February 1992, 26 February 1992, 19 February 1997; Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
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